Quality vs. Grade PMP Guide

Quality vs. Grade PMP Guide

PMP Certification  |  Project Management  |  PMP Exam Prep

The terms “quality” and “grade” are often used interchangeably. However, PMP certificate holders need to understand the difference between quality and grade for the PMP exam and project management work. These PMP concepts are closely related, so it can be challenging to grasp what is different about quality vs. grade. Your experts at Project Management Academy have put together this guide to help.

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What is Quality in project management?

As a PMP credential holder, it is critical to ensure that your project’s deliverables meet the expectations you establish with your client. If your deliverables meet expectations, they are considered high quality. If they don’t, they are considered low quality.

Quality measures how closely a deliverable matches its intended purpose, functions, or requirements. For example, a high-quality phone is one you can use to make phone calls and has no defects or performance issues that prevent it from doing what it’s meant to do.

Typically, PMP credential holders can judge quality by verifying that the deliverable fulfills all specifications and is fit to be used as intended. This makes “quality” relatively objective. However, just because a product is high quality doesn’t mean the customer or end-user will like or approve it.

A customer may desire some features or characteristics outside the specifications of the product. This is where grade becomes essential for a PMP certificate holder.


What is Grade in project management?

Change as SkillSome characteristics or features of a deliverable may be more important to customers based on their individual needs and goals. It can be challenging to describe or measure deliverables by how well they meet subjective user needs. To do so, a PMP certificate holder must define grade.

Grade refers to a category or ranking system used to classify deliverables that fulfill the same functional quality but have different features. Those features may be more or less desirable to the customer or end-user based on what they want from the deliverable. If the deliverable or product has desirable features, PMP certificate holders consider this “high grade.” If it doesn’t, it is “low grade.”

Let’s look at the example of the phone again. A flip phone and smartphone both fulfill the same function of making calls and storing contacts, so both are high quality. However, a flip phone may be more durable, user-friendly, and have longer battery life. In contrast, a smartphone may have good camera quality, video calling features, a touch screen, and more apps. Depending on which of these features is most important to the user, one has a higher grade than the other.

Grade is an essential PMP credential holder tool for minimizing cost and maximizing scope. It helps you determine which characteristics or features are necessary for a high-quality product and which can be “sacrificed” if you need to cut costs, time, or effort.


Quality vs. Grade for the PMP exam

It is crucial to understand the difference between quality vs. grade for the PMP exam. You should understand their definitions, the high and low variants, and how they interact with each other. Let’s start by taking a look at them separately:

  • Quality: measures how closely a deliverable meets expectations and functions as intended. It’s necessary to consider if there are any defects or performance errors.
    • High quality: the deliverable matches its expected specifications. There are no defects, and it functions correctly.
    • Low quality: the deliverable does not fulfill requirements. It has defects or does not work well or at all.
  • Grade: categorizes desired features or characteristics of a deliverable. It can be understood as a measure of what a customer values in a product.
    • High grade: many valuable or desired features.
    • Low grade: limited or undesirable features.

hamburger-1238246_640There are four possible combinations when looking at a product or deliverable-based on quality and grade. At Project Management Academy, we like to use the example of a burger to explain the differences between these combinations for the PMP exam.

  • High quality, high grade: this is the type of burger you might find at a five-star restaurant. It’s cooked correctly and safe to eat (high quality), and it uses a high grade of meat and other ingredients that make it desirable – and often pretty expensive (high grade).
  • High quality, low grade: you can get this type of burger at a fast-food restaurant. It’s still cooked correctly and safe to eat (high quality), but it might use low-grade meat or have unhealthy ingredients that make it less desirable (low grade).
  • Low quality, high grade: imagine you ordered a burger at a nice restaurant that you know uses good ingredients (high grade). However, the burger arrives burnt and inedible! Although the grade is high, the quality is low.
  • Low quality, low grade: have you ever gotten a fast-food burger and bitten into a cold patty or burnt rock? That’s a low-quality AND low-grade burger.

As you can see, high quality doesn’t always mean high grade, and low quality does not always come with low grade. A low grade can be acceptable as long as all the quality is high – that is, as long as it fulfills all requirements. However, you never want anything to be low quality, especially as a PMP credential holder. Always aim for high-quality deliverables regardless of the grade.

PMP certificate holders must understand and monitor both quality and grade to manage projects successfully. Since low quality is never acceptable, you may have to adjust the grade based on your project’s activities and requirements. For example, if the budget needs to be reduced, you should consider removing some features to lower production costs while still meeting project requirements.


Quality and Grade PMP examples

Let’s take a look at some different PMP exam examples of quality and grade.


Example 1

Imagine your team has to design seats for an airplane. The airline wants all seats to be at least 18 inches wide, have at least 30 inches of legroom, and include armrests, a seatbelt, and all other necessary safety features. The airline also offers three travel classes: First, Business, and Economy. These are different grades of seats, but none of them should be low quality.

Every seat needs to fulfill the listed requirements to be high quality. Higher-grade seats may exceed these requirements or add other features, such as overhead storage space, an entertainment system, or in-flight snack services.


Example 2

Let’s say your project is to create a new website for a client. Your client wants the website to have information about their services, company and contact details, their logo, a specific font, and various shades of blue, orange, and white.

As the PMP credential holder, you must match these specifications to create a high quality website. If you change the font, add different colors, or use incorrect information, the website will be low quality.

You may have the time and budget to add helpful features to the website the client mentioned wanting, such as a chatbot, updated photography, or a search bar. These additional features improve the grade of the website. However, if you don’t add these features, the website might be lower-grade but still high quality because you have met all the specified requirements.


Sample test questions

Ready to test your knowledge on quality vs. grade for the PMP exam? See if you can answer these PMP sample test questions. Answers at bottom of the page. 


Question A B C D
During User Acceptance Testing, the client found no defects with the final result of the project. However, they also expressed concern that the final product was not exactly what they were expecting and felt that certain important features were missing. These features were not in scope and were not part of the requirements that they signed off on. Had they been included, the product would have had greater functionality and perhaps more sales appeal. What would best describe the grade and quality of the product? The product was low grade but high quality The product was high grade but low quality The product was low grade and low quality The product was high grade and high quality
One of your team members who is not familiar with Quality has read through the Quality Management Plan. After reading it, he comes to you with a concern. The concern is that the product is mentioned as being low grade and he wonders what that means in terms of quality. You advise him: You will immediately report this to the sponsor Low grade is typically not a problem, low quality is You will investigate as all products must be high grade and high quality Low quality is okay as long as the grade is high


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1. A, the product was low grade but high quality. This is a case where the product itself is high quality (conforms to requirements and has very few if any defects), yet the client was expecting a better product with more features (i.e. he was expecting a higher grade).


2. B, low grade is typically not a problem, low quality is. Grade is a category assigned to deliverables having the same functional use but different technical characteristics. If you have a standard definition TV and a high definition TV, those are different grades and that is perfectly fine. Remember, low quality is never okay.